In the filamentous bacterium Streptomyces coelicolor, the cell division protein FtsZ is required for the conversion of multinucleoidal aerial hyphae into chains of uninucleoidal spores, although it is not essential for viability. Using immunofluorescence microscopy, we have shown that FtsZ assembles into long, regularly spaced, ladder-like arrays in developing aerial hyphae, with an average spacing of about 1.3 microm. Within individual hyphae, ladder formation was relatively synchronous and extended for distances over 100 microm. These ladders were present only transiently, decreasing in intensity as chromosomes separated into distinct nucleoids and disappearing upon the completion of septum formation. Evidence from the overall intensity of immunofluorescence staining suggested that ladder formation was regulated in part at the level of the accumulation and degradation of FtsZ within individual aerial hyphae. Finally, FtsZ ladder formation was under developmental control in that long arrays of FtsZ rings could not be detected in certain so-called white mutants (whiG, whiH and whiB), which are blocked in spore formation. The assembly of FtsZ into ladders represents the earliest known molecular manifestation of the process of spore formation, and its discovery provides insight into the role of whi genes in the conversion of aerial hyphae into chains of spores. We have also described a novel use of a cell wall-staining technique to visualize apical tip growth in vegetatively growing hyphae.